A while ago, I wrote about healthcare and maternity leave in the U.S.A. I had suspected that having next to no maternity leave would negatively affect the overall consensus on breastfeeding. From my experience so far, I was right.
The less-committed message started to come across loud and clear at work, even before I went on mat leave. One woman from another agency started lecturing me on the importance of weaning a baby to the bottle. Huh? (Gotta love the unsolicited information flung at you when you’re pregnant.) I already knew then that I was going to take additional time off, but she didn’t. Because most moms return to work after three measly months, she was encouraging me to get started on the bottle right away. Little did I know that I’d have a preemie whom I’d have to wean onto the breast. Perhaps I’m harsh, but I believe she wouldn’t have bothered doing so.
It’s been so worth the bother. I have way more milk with James actually breastfeeding than I did pumping. Plus I love the bonding. Having a cute baby snuggled into me is way better than being attached to plastic gizmos. (However, I’ll always be grateful that they exist and helped me keep some supply when he was too premature to breastfeed.) Then there are the hours I’ve gotten back not having to sterilize pump parts and bottles.
Add to that the World Health Organization’s recommendation that moms breastfeed for the first year and, ideally, for the first two years. Especially with a preemie, all doctors recommend you breastfeed.
I will insert the caveat that I’ve always heard and respect that some women can’t breastfeed.
Less time for mat leave seems to have shortened the amount of time American moms put into breastfeeding. The women who have to return to work are confined to breastfeeding only in the mornings and evenings, and need to find time during their work days to pump. Not easy. Pumping is by no means fun, and when done solely it usually depletes your milk supply. Once a baby is taking bottles, it’s also easier to switch to formula.
The women I’ve met in the States who have stuck with breastfeeding and pumping either have arranged longer mat leaves, are self-employed, or are stay-at-home moms. Coincidence? Maybe, but I’m guessing no.
A longer, year-long mat leave like that in Canada seems to instill a different approach to feeding babies. I know a lot of Canadian moms, especially through extended circles. Almost all breastfed for a year, if not longer. Only a few of them supplemented with formula. And I can think of only one or two who switched to formula solely.
Based on my non-scientific but keen observations, less mat leave means less breastfeeding. Maybe it’s the hippie in me, but I find that really sad.
(photo via Paul, my honey)